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Urban ecosystems: Biogeochemical cycling along the natural-built environment interface

ORNL scientists are exploring the belowground biogeochemical processes in urban areas that influence carbon cycling to better understand how the natural and built environments interact and affect the microclimate of people who reside there. Their discoveries provide insight into how tree plantings and greenspace could alleviate heat in urban areas, where most of the world’s population resides.

The project is being conducted on the campus of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland. There, ORNL is studying the impacts of forest distribution, and how soil water affects soil respiration and tree evapotranspiration.

The scientists are exploring topics such as: How much more carbon are trees on the forest edge incorporating into their biomass and what belowground resources—nutrients, soil moisture, microbial community—fuel their growth. They are incorporating data gathered into a model that will expand their understanding of soil-climate interactions in green spaces in highly urbanized areas.

ORNL is also assisting NIST in its goal of developing instrumentation to measure plant photosynthesis and plant characteristics (greenness, leaf area index and biogenic emissions) on its campus.

Project Details

Principal Investigator